There's no doubt that managing and producing content is one of the engines driving the growth of the PR industry – it is also causing the large agency networks to consider how they address content within their holding companies.
One top PR agency CEO recently told me his firm is managing 130 communities on Facebook, more than any other company. The social networking giant has hitherto concentrated on engaging advertising and media agencies over paid-for media, but it is increasingly recognizing the role of earned and shared media in the mix and is finally reaching out to the PR industry to see how it can capitalize on this extra engagement.
PR has a head start in this space because it is its natural territory: engagement and conversation are the bywords of what PR does. Agencies are helping brands engage their customers via content and community, employing senior journalists and digital specialists to facilitate this growth area.
On a parallel track, holding companies such as Omnicom, Interpublic Group, and WPP are building content arms that stretch across their networks and aren't necessarily confined to one particular agency – and certainly not just to the PR side of their businesses.
Omnicom Media Group this week launched Content Continuum through its Resolution Media subsidiary. It is billed as a content marketing business unit that starts with search engine optimization but really concentrates on turning companies into content creators – language that will already be very familiar to sister Omnicom PR firms Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum.
Interpublic Group also recently launched a venture to concentrate on content. BPN, a new firm under its Mediabrands umbrella, will focus on custom content for brands as well as the usual business of a media agency.
And WPP is increasingly stretching its “Team” philosophy across different clients, with cross-discipline agencies teaming up as one entity to service the holistic marketing needs of companies including Ford and Intercontinental Hotels. It's another sign of the convergence of disciplines in a social media-led world, as well as clients looking for efficiencies across their promotional spend.
PR still has the opportunity to lead in this area – and it is doing so. Earned and shared media remain relatively unfamiliar concepts to the advertising and media folks, where their culture has been – and continues to be – built on paid-for media.
The key for PR agencies if they want to retain their leadership in this area will be to produce effective and engaging content that really attracts consumers in. It is no longer enough to just build it and hope they will come – content and community has already moved way beyond that.